Panthers' Top 2021 NFL Draft Targets

Alex Ballentine@Ballentine_AlexFeatured ColumnistApril 28, 2021

Panthers' Top 2021 NFL Draft Targets

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    We are now just one day away from the 2021 NFL draft and finding out what the Carolina Panthers are going to do with the No. 8 pick in this year's proceedings. 

    The Panthers are one of the most interesting teams in the top 10 this season. The acquisition of Sam Darnold via trade this offseason makes quarterback less likely, but it doesn't completely rule it out. Five quarterbacks are expected to go in the first round, and there's a chance one will still be on the board when Carolina is on the clock. 

    Panthers general manager Scott Fitterer gave up a future second- and fourth-rounder to bring in Darnold. So with the eighth pick, they could opt to surround him with better talent on offense, trade back to a team looking to move up for a quarterback or address a defense that ranked 18th in yards allowed and scoring. 

    If the draft order remains steady, Carolina will have another opportunity to add a difference-maker in Round 2. There are always players who end up slipping to the early second round and offer tremendous value, and the Panthers are in a great position at No. 39. 

    Here's a look at who could be some of their top targets with those two selections. 

Penei Sewell, OT, Oregon or Rashawn Slater, OT, Northwestern

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    Ron Jenkins/Associated Press

    Scott Fowler of the Charlotte Observer asked seven former Panthers what the franchise should do with the No. 8 pick. They were nearly unanimous in their choice: Take a left tackle. 

    The team attempted to find the solution at left tackle by trading for Russell Okung last offseason. He ended up giving three sacks while only playing 406 snaps and isn't on an NFL roster right now. 

    The Panthers have an excellent right tackle in Taylor Moton, but he'll be playing on the franchise tag this season which means his long-term future with the club is still in question. Fortunately, Carolina could have its pick of at least one of the top two tackle prospects in the draft. 

    Sewell opted out in 2020 but put together a dominant year with Oregon in 2019. He gave up no sacks and only allowed two hits all year in his only full season as a starter.

    Meanwhile, Slater has put himself in the No. 1 tackle conversation with a phenomenal two-year span at Northwestern. He only gave up two sacks and two hits across 25 games with the Wildcats while showing off a mean streak in the run game. 

    Either one would bring stability to a position that will be vital if the Panthers are going to give Darnold a chance to rejuvenate his career. 

Patrick Surtain II, CB, Alabama

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    Michael Ainsworth/Associated Press

    There's a strong chance the Panthers could have the opportunity to add whatever defensive player they want when they are on the clock at No. 8. Five quarterbacks are getting first-round consideration, while Ja'Marr Chase, Kyle Pitts and Devonta Smith all have cases to be among the first players chosen. 

    Sewell and Slater could also be top-10 picks. 

    The Panthers were far from dominant on defense. An offense that boasts Christian McCaffrey, D.J. Moore and Robby Anderson should have plenty of fire power.

    If the team is going defense, it would make sense to target a corner. It signed A.J. Bouye in free agency to play opposite of Donte Jackson, but he is three years removed from his lone Pro Bowl season and only made seven appearances for the Broncos last season. 

    Patrick Surtain II would give the Panthers a player who profiles as a shutdown corner. He's the top defensive back on Bleacher Report's big board and the No. 16 overall prospect. He has three years of production at Alabama to tell us he's not going to be a bust. 

Elijah Molden, CB/S, Washington

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press

    Jeremy Chinn was the star of the 2020 all-defense draft class in Carolina last year. Matt Rhule's staff showed they could employ a versatile player like the 23-year-old all over the defense, and he responded with a strong rookie season. 

    Elijah Molden is in a similar mold. NFL evaluators have thrown around some impressive names when describing the physical tools of the 5'9" 192-pound defensive back. 

    "He's a good, good player," an NFL scout told Bob McGinn of The Athletic. "He is tough. He runs around and gets to the ball. He'd be a really good cover guy for a safety, not for a corner. If you're looking for the Budda Baker-type guy and you ignore the size, this is your guy."

    At Washington, the 22-year-old took snaps at deep safety, box safety, slot and at outside corner. He would be a perfect compliment to Chinn who could play more linebacker and safety, with Molden playing the nickel and safety role. 

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